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Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  A saint and his ‘satsang’ can’t reform a nation
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A saint and his ‘satsang’ can’t reform a nation

A saint and his ‘satsang’ can’t reform a nation

Wrong chant: Hazare believes corruption lies outside of society, inside something called government.Premium

Wrong chant: Hazare believes corruption lies outside of society, inside something called government.

The mandate of saints is to reform society, not government. The collapse of the movement led by Anna Hazare results from their inability to comprehend this. A saint achieves his status through not achievement but personal conduct. In Christianity, saints are usually martyrs, those who gave up their lives. In India saintliness can also come from abstinence, from giving up the world, which for us is a high virtue.

Abstinence is admirable, but in low-trust societies it becomes virtuous. The idea that one doesn’t grab all that is within reach is not only unusual but saintly in such a culture.

One cannot become a social reformer in advanced cultures in this manner. There one must engage with one’s ideas, not put on display one’s virtue for darshan.

A second aspect of the same thing may be observed in the way we look at honesty. Western nations do not make constant reference to the honesty of their leader, as we do Manmohan Singh’s, because honesty is assumed, not virtuous. It is the opposite that must be remarked upon, because it is supposed to be unusual.

It is a different society, like India’s, which venerates someone whose primary message is that he is honest and is a mendicant. Anna Hazare’s power comes from the fact that he chooses to live modestly, rejecting the world. He is no intellectual and doesn’t pretend to be one. I am quite certain he has read no book of value save a handful of religious ones in translation.

However, his following comprises the educated middle class. This is because education doesn’t necessarily erode culture and they genuflect before his piety.

Indians will not accept this, but abstinence does not equip our saints to understand a world which is based on interaction and compromise, not withdrawal and rejection.

Wrong chant: Hazare believes corruption lies outside of society, inside something called government.

Unfortunately, the saint and his followers believe corruption lies outside of society, and inside something called government. From this bad space, they sought to extirpate it through their collective piety which would bring a new law. It sounds silly when put this way, and it is. This is where all the energy that is harnessed by the saintliness of Hazare is dissipated.

Our finest scholar of religion, Waheeduddin Khan says corruption is a moral problem and only soluble in morality, which comes from religion. This is accurate, because it acknowledges that all of us, including Hazare’s faithful, need to look inwards and act individually to cleanse ourselves if we want to change our culture. This is where the saint’s power should be deployed. To be effective against corruption in India, Anna Hazare must focus on reforming his supporters, who are many, before putting pressure on government. He should make them better, more moral human beings first.

It is the false saint who turns their mindless reverence for him not inwards, where real reform happens, but outwards against the state. Could we lay the same charge against Gandhi? We couldn’t, because Gandhi fasted for Hindu reform, against our butchering of one another, against those defying the temple-entry movement, against our bigotry, more than he fasted against the state.

Anna Hazare’s movement will not be able to survive another interruption. If nothing comes of their fasts now, their game is over.

The horror of the saint’s death is what the movement threatens the government with, a form of blackmail to which the government has already once succumbed.

It is on this point that R.K. Narayan skewered Dev Anand for ruining his fine novella, The Guide. Dev Anand retaliated and both men wrote nasty things against one another over the issue in their autobiographies. In Dev Anand’s movie, the saint fasts to end a drought. He dies, and the heavens answer, bringing in the monsoon and saving the nation.

In Narayan’s book, however, the saint fasts, and he dies, and nothing happens.

(In an earlier column, I wrote the names of those who are being convicted of murdering Muslims in Gujarat. My view is that one community has taken the lead in doing all the murdering. Any understanding of the violence in Gujarat will fail if it doesn’t take this caste and its behaviour into account. The Dipda Darwaja massacre which I had mentioned in passing was adjudicated this week. These are the names of those convicted: Bipin B. Patel, Bhikha N. Patel, Rajesh R. Patel, Chimanlal K. Patel, Dhiru B. Patel, Parimal B. Patel, Ashok S. Parmar, Ranjit R. Patel, Vijay C. Patel, Rangnesh K. Patel, Anand B. Patel, Jayesh B. Patel, Jayesh K. Patel, Yogesh C. Patel, Jitendra H. Patel, Dasharath S. Patel, Dahya P. Patel, Chaman R. Patel, Ganda M. Patel and Manu K. Patel. Police officer M.K. Patel deliberately messed up the investigation, according to the judge.)

Aakar Patel is a writer and a columnist.

Also Read | Aakar’s previous columns

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Published: 03 Aug 2012, 09:06 PM IST
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